Deal with facts and not opinions to make sure that you are having an objective conversation.
Firstly, let us identify what makes conversations difficult. Before having a difficult conversation at work, your vulnerability floats on the surface of your emotions and your self-esteem gets threatened. Leaders worry that there are important issues at stake that must be discussed during the conversation with an uncertain outcome. Whether it is with subordinates or co-workers, the receiver during the communication process gets worried and considers it difficult as they care deeply about what is being discussed and about the people they are having a discussion with. Moreover, a major factor that contributes to making a conversation difficult is the anticipation of resistance from the second party. Below are six steps to follow when handling a difficult conversation.
A good manager will collect facts before having the conversation to make sure that there were no mitigating circumstances that disrupted a previous interaction that should have taken place. Ask yourself if an employee was away on vacation during a certain staff training or was called away on an emergency and what were the effects of his or her absence. Deal with facts and not opinions to make sure that you are having an objective conversation.
A good leader will analyse the purpose or goal of what he or she hopes to achieve. Are you looking to improve communication and quality of work or is there an underlying issue that needs to be taken care of? If you need to have a conversation that is too difficult for you, ask yourself why you really need to have that conversation. If you find yourself dreading that conversation, think about the side effects of avoiding it and if keeping the status quo. After answering these questions, you will realise the conversation is not that difficult anymore.
Practising is invaluable. While most people do not prefer role-playing, it is an effective way to prepare for and practice tough conversations that you dread. Write down the points that you want to say and be very clear about what you want to achieve from that conversation. Choose an employee who you feel comfortable talking to or a trusted peer and run the talking points as you imagine them. Ask for honest and constructive feedback and reshape your talking points accordingly.
Many leaders are people pleasers aiming to do their best for their employees and subordinates. If you approach conversations from an emotional place, you might as well avoid that conversation once and for all. You should aim to find the truth of the matter and have the conversation from that point of view instead. Be true and honest and you will find a solution to the problem. Also, roleplaying the conversation will calm your emotions down. A big part of the emotional turmoil that takes place during the difficult conversation is the fact that you are doing it for the first time. You can greatly benefit in calming your emotions by role-playing.
Facilitate the listening process by understanding and asking probing questions to understand the problem. Always give the second party a chance to explain their point of you. When you see things in a different light, it will be easier for you to find a solution. Show interest by building rapport and acknowledging that you are not only hearing the conversation but actively listening.
The second party involved in the difficult conversation is most likely looking to get results. Set expectations and be very clear about the desired behaviour or outcome. Document the conversation and expectations in writing to the employee to aid understanding and establishing a common ground. Follow up consistently with meetings and conversations as behaviour is not often changed with one conversation.
A good and effective communication strategy helps build better work relationships and assists employees to understand the organisational culture and contribute to it as much as they can. If you master the art of having difficult conversations, you will promote employee engagement, retention and compliance. Communication is more about building rapport, empathy and cooperation. It is not about talking to your employees about the issue but rather building better team relationships and improving the overall performance.
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